Interview with Meg Cabot

Posted by Goodreads on July 18, 2013
By her pen, Meg Cabot's certainly earned a tiara of her own. She's the author of The Princess Diaries, a warm and funny tale about a reluctant teen princess—the beloved series was made into a hit movie that launched Anne Hathaway's career. Besides Genovian royalty, the best-selling writer's characters include a former child star, a teen medium, and an accidental model. Next up: mythological beings. Meg has been fascinated by the Persephone myth since she was young. Need proof? Below, check out a drawing she made in high school of the Greek goddess in the Underworld. Her latest book, Awaken, is the third and final installment of the popular Abandon trilogy. In this darkly romantic series, Persephone becomes Pierce, a modern-day seventeen-year-old who is drawn to the Underworld by love. Warning: no tiaras here.

We sent Meg some questions from her Goodreads fans. Read on to find out her secret to creating memorable characters, plus get advice for meeting a dreamy guy!

YAL Book Briefs: Besides Persephone, what other Greek myths do you like?

Meg Cabot: This is a tough question because there aren't that many myths in which the ladies come out on top, like they do in the myth of Persephone (after all, she becomes the goddess of Springtime AND Death)! Usually female characters in Greek myths are turned into trees or swans. Even poor Atalanta gets turned into a lion in the end.

But as a kid I really liked the myth of Cupid and Psyche, which is the basis of today's Beauty and the Beast fairy tale (my all-time-favorite fairy tale). I've even written a modern retelling of it for my Brazilian readers!

Alexis: When you're writing a book, where do you get your main ideas? How do you plan the sequence of events, length, and other key facets of a novel, since you say that you don't write an outline because it works against your creativity?

MC: Wow, Alexis! These are great questions. Obviously, there is no "right" way to write. That said, when I get an idea for a book—and book ideas simply pop into my mind; I have no idea where they come from, I wish I did!—I start plotting out the scenes in my head. I know some other writers use notecards or outlines or writing programs (there is one called Scrivener), but I don't. Instead, after 80 or so published books, I know in my head exactly where I want the story to go and exactly how many scenes (and chapters) it's going to take to get there. It's sort of like having a map in my brain just for books.

I don't start writing anything down until I've worked out the story in my mind, though, beginning to end. When I feel confident enough in the story I've plotted in my head to write down the first few chapters, I'll do that, then write a one-page plot summary, then open a folder on my computer where I will keep the summary, the manuscript, files containing notes, deleted scenes, research, maps, images, and correspondence related to that book as well as a "story bible," which is a list of all the characters, place settings, and other pertinent information. That's when I know the story is a "keeper"!

I really can't tell you why I don't outline or keep notecards, except that I basically do it in my head. Whenever I've tried to keep "hard notes" in the past, the story has felt "told," and I've never ended up enjoying (or finishing) the book. It's sort of like when you begin to sneeze, and someone says "Bless you" before you're finished, and then you can't sneeze anymore! I hate that.

I recently posted the story bible I kept for the Abandon series! So if you want to take a look at it, click here. But like I said, how a writer writes is a very individual thing, often steeped in mystery, superstition, and, of course, caffeine!

Mare: What are some things you do to give depth to your characters?

MC: The first thing I ask myself when crafting any character is, "What does this person want?"

Because we all want something, right? Whether it's to rule the Underworld like Pierce in the Abandon series (of course, she also wants to work things out with her boyfriend, John, and with her parents, who don't approve of John), or maybe to be a normal girl and not the heir to a throne (like Mia in the Princess Diaries), or to solve a murder in the dorm where she works (like Heather in the Size 12 is Not Fat series), or to have her old body back (like Em in Airhead), all my characters want something, and that desire propels their actions throughout the arc of the book or series.

Once you've figured out what your character wants (and you need to figure out what ALL your characters want, not just your main character, because EVERYONE wants something), the little things that make each character stand out (and you know what those are!) are easy—and fun!—to add in, like a sense of humor or a dislike of beets.

Lalalalinda: Just wondering, since I love your books so much, have you read any good books yourself lately that you could recommend?

MC: Aw, thanks! I have read some great books lately, too many to list here, so I try to keep my Goodreads list updated (I just went through and added a bunch). Here are a few new ones I've enjoyed that you might like, and some oldies I had to add because they're just such fun:

Innocent Lamb ~ Forever Reading: Is there a quote that you live by? If so, what is it?

MC: There are so many quotes that I live by! But if I had to narrow it down to one, I think it would be the one I tell myself the most, since I've gone through periods of insecurity, and it helps to be able to remind yourself that people really are predisposed to like you. Thanks to one of my favorite authors, Jane Austen, and this quote from the book Pride and Prejudice, it's easy: "Where she feared most to fail, she was most sure of success, for those to whom she endeavoured to give pleasure were prepossessed in her favour."

Sarah: If you weren't a writer, what career would you see yourself wanting to have? Any unusual hobbies?

MC: People always seem surprised to hear that when I was in college, I majored in studio arts with an emphasis on illustration! I wanted to become a children's book illustrator, and after college that's what I moved to New York City to do. So things did not turn out AT ALL the way I thought they were going to. But I guess being a best-selling author is pretty good, too! So like I said above, keep an open mind. I'd still love to be an illustrator, but I think I'd also love to be a teacher. My dad was a teacher and used to always tell me that was what I should go into: the "family business." (He passed away when I was still in my twenties, struggling to become an illustrator. I often wonder what he'd think about my career now!) I still like to draw, but my main hobby is still writing (for fun). I also like to swim, read, ride bikes, watch movies, go boating, and snorkel!

Meg's high school-era drawing, inspired by the Persephone myth.
Nuala: Are you also an artist like in your book All American Girl? If so, could you post a drawing on Goodreads?

MC: Sure! Here's an illustration I did in high school. It's from the myth of Persephone, actually, which is what Awaken is based on! A couple of years ago I put all of my Persephone drawings together and animated them into this video for how they became the inspiration for the Abandon series.

Jory: I have too many ideas, which usually come when I'm halfway through a project. How do you force yourself to finish what you're doing before starting the next project when the new idea is nagging at you?

MC: This is a great question, Jory, and a problem that has plagued writers throughout time. It's always more fun to start writing a fresh new book than it is to finish the old book you're currently working on (just like dessert is more fun to eat than vegetables).

But just like we don't eat dessert first, writers can't abandon their book halfway through for every fresh new idea that comes along. Otherwise no book would ever get finished.

So what I do is put the fresh new idea aside and think of it as a "reward" (like dessert) that I'll only allow myself when I'm done with my current book. Hope this helps!
I was actually asked to address this exact question by NaNoWriMo a couple of years ago. You can read my longer answer here.

Lindsay: Mia from The Princess Diaries seems to always be on a quest for self-actualization (at least in the earlier books). Are you on that quest? Are you totally self-actualized?

MC: Ha, this is a funny question, thanks Lindsay! I don't know if anyone can be completely self-actualized, because we're all learning new things about ourselves (and others) every day.

But we should always be striving to be better people. I know I try to be kind and respectful to others, unless of course they're rude and disrespectful to me, in which case I walk away. We're too classy to waste time on haters, right? Don't take the bait. Rise above it.

I'm still pursuing my quest for self-actualization, and I hope everyone else reading this is, too!

Happy summer, Meg! Chilling on a friend's boat in Key West, Florida.
Diana: Your books feature dreamy guys. What's your advice on how to meet a nice, dreamy guy?

MC: Thanks, Diana! You know, living in a resort town (Key West, Florida), I see a lot of beach weddings, and over 50 percent of them are the result of Internet dating! (Yes, as a matter of fact, I DO walk up to strangers getting married on the beach and ask, "So how did you two meet?" I'm a famous writer, I can get away with it.) But I'm also a firm believer in putting the word out that you're looking. Friends are often great at making introductions.

I also believe in walking up to someone you think is cute and starting a conversation with him/her. If you have self-confidence (but aren't a snob) and think you're worth getting to know, other people will believe it, too!

Of course, if the person you meet (at the club or beach or bar or party) turns out to be a jerk, turn around and walk away. "Better to be alone than in bad company" is another favorite quote of mine. That being said, once I met a guy at a party who I absolutely hated. But we had to put up with each other because our friends were friends. Slowly we found out we had a lot in common. We both love books and writing—though not the SAME books and writing. He loves dead old white American writers such as Herman Melville, and poetry. Moby Dick and poetry to me = YUCK! Shockingly, we fell in love and have been married 20 years.

So keep an open mind. You never know how things are going to turn out.

Comments Showing 1-13 of 13 (13 new)

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message 1: by Alexis (new)

Alexis I am so honored to have had one of my questions answered in the July 2013 Young Adult Newsletter! Thank you so much Meg Cabot & Goodreads!

message 2: by Maura (new)

Maura The thoughts of one of my favorite authors! It's always interesting to for me to hear about authors as, well, people, no matter how many times I see things like this. Thanks for being awesome, Meg!

message 3: by Kristi (new)

Kristi What great insights! And from one of my all time favorite authors! Meg, since you love water activities so much, you should come to Hawaii where we can meet you!

message 4: by Milenia (new)

Milenia somerhalder I am just dying for awaken; the abandon trilogy

message 5: by Addie (new)

Addie WOW. I am so glad you answered those questions. Love to know what's in your head and how you live life especially when making your books. Can't wait to read Awaken!

message 6: by Haz (new)

Haz Awaken was absolutely amazing! I loved the way it all ended perfectly and there was no confusion...great job Mc!!

message 7: by Laer (new)

Laer Carroll Princess Diaries is still one of my favorite books. Though they’re ended now that Mia has graduated from high school, I still sometimes wonder what she’s up to. Probably going to Barnard College in New York’s upper west side and getting into and out of trouble!

message 8: by Zoe (new)

Zoe Hart I love mythology and the abandon series was an awesome new take on the persephone story! I love all your work!

message 9: by Hana (new)

Hana Y love how your books have everything. From romance to suspense to humour. Its all twisted so fabulously! You can practically visualize everything while reading any of your pieces! ^^) please please keep writing Meg!!!

message 10: by Gargi (new)

Gargi Amazing interview! Keep up with the great work, Meg!

message 11: by Dalaina (new)

Dalaina Powers I loved it your books have a lot of emotion that expresses how everyone feels or just that one person, I hope you keep righting the books were amazing.

message 12: by Utkarsha (last edited Jan 07, 2015 01:54AM) (new)

Utkarsha I luv ur all of them for YA..
one of ur biggest fans from india!!!

message 13: by Utkarsha (last edited Jan 07, 2015 01:53AM) (new)

Utkarsha I would really lyk to knw,Which one of ur own book do u luv the most?? Meg!!

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